Algonquin Arts

History

AAT is a unique organization with an evolutionary arc that began in the early 1990s. The Algonquin Theatre began its life as a first-run movie house in 1938. A fixture in the Rockwellian downtown of Manasquan, New Jersey, the theatre enjoyed a long period of success from '38 through the mid-Seventies, when age, disrepair and competition drove the Algonquin first into 2nd run film house status and finally, in 1981, to close the doors entirely.

The building, along with a neighboring structure, stood neglected for a decade, part of a deteriorating downtown landscape mired in a severe economic recession. However, in 1992, two local couples, Fran and Jack Drew and Sal and Joyce Maraziti came to the rescue of the abandoned property with the intention of not only transforming the buildings, but also the surrounding area as well. As residents of Manasquan, the couples were long acquainted with the Algonquin as a feature of the local entertainment scene and committed to restoring the theatre to its former prominence.

In 1992, the Drews and Marazitis co-founded Algonquin Arts: A New Jersey Non Profit Corporation and embarked upon a multi-million dollar renovation of the abandoned movie house. The neglected building was refitted with a proscenium stage and fly tower for theatrical productions, a sprung stage for dance performances, an orchestra pit, new image projection, lighting and sound systems, accessibility for the physically challenged, safety and climate control systems, dressing rooms, 540 seats, a courtyard entrance, modern restrooms, and a new lobby and refreshment area. The formerly derelict structure was given a new life as a year-round theatre and education center.

In 1994, live cultural programming premiered at the transformed venue, hosting the Red Oak Music Theatre production of Mack and Mabel. Primarily a presenting venue, AAT hosted productions ranging from plays by local theatre groups to nationally recognized touring companies and offered a wide variety of educational programs. By 2002, the vision of AAT as both a vibrant cultural center for the community and as a powerful economic engine for the region was being realized, although the costs and constraints of being strictly a presenting venue were beginning to place some limitations on the potential of the organization.

AAT hosted (and often housed) artists and companies from all over the region, representing every performing arts discipline. Two River Theatre Company (Red Bank, NJ) was in residence at AAT until the completion of their own theatre. A number of other local companies, including Red Oak Music Theatre, Phoenix Productions, Premier Theatre Company, Dunbar Repertory Company and Shore Repertory Theatre Company called AAT their home at one point or another. Each would have a lasting impact on the programmatic trajectory of the organization.

In 2009, the Board of Trustees of Algonquin Arts, after a successful capital campaign, purchased the theatre from the founders and moved forward with additional capital improvements, including the replacement of all seats in the auditorium which was completed in 2014.

By 2010, the expansion of educational programming prompted the development of the Algonquin Youth Ensemble (AYE), an audition-only company for long-time and advanced theatre students. In an effort to provide greater challenges for these emerging artists, AAT assumed the role of producer and mounted its first in-house production Tuesdays with Morrie, utilizing a combined cast of AYE and adult actors. There was such a strong response to this model that an organizational decision was made to gradually move away from the presenting model and to produce the majority of theatrical productions in-house. Concerts, special events, student matinee programming and some theatre companies (such as The Walnut Street Theatre) would still be booked in, but the majority of the season would be comprised of plays and musicals produced and presented by AAT.

Current annual programming at the venue includes 7-8 main stage productions of plays and musicals, an orchestral music series, a wide variety of jazz and pop concerts, special event programming, student matinee presentations, film presentations and a full complement of classes and workshops in theatre, music and dance.

Since 1994, more than 500,000 patrons have attended events at the venue. Nearly 95,000 students from more than 200 schools have benefited from educational programs both onsite at AAT and offsite at school and community locations. Outreach initiatives that travel to adult communities have enriched the lives of thousands of senior citizens. A rapidly expanding education department has allowed AAT to place greater focus on underserved audiences including those with physical, experiential, geographic and socio-economic barriers to participation. Engaging both local and regional audiences through main stage programming, the Performing Arts Academy and other educational initiatives, AAT fosters appreciation of the arts through high-quality performances and promotes lifelong learning for students of all ages.